In celebration of Women’s History Month, DiversityQ spoke with Kostandina (Nina) Zafirovska, General Manager, IT Labs, who shares her experience as a female leader in tech with advice for other women coming up through the ranks.
Nina, did you always want a career in tech? What drew you to the sector and to becoming the MD of IT Labs?
I always loved technology and knew I wanted to do something in the world of tech and help make people’s lives easier. I started as a database engineer and gradually worked my way up, learning more and more every day, competing with myself, and striving to do and be better. The greatest challenge is to lead people because a leader has to be better daily, not because of themselves but because of the people that look up to them.
I have learned a lot being on C-level positions and responsibilities I had to embrace, shaped my views and priorities in such a way to appreciate every team member and every person that I had worked with. Currently, being MD in a company that genuinely appreciates people and cares for the wellbeing of the employees is just a reward and one I truly enjoy.
How did you view the culture of the organisation when you first joined?
It was much different from any place I had worked before, mostly because the focus was on people. IT Lab’s culture is all about support, diversity, and equality. People are considered to have the highest value and are taken great care of – something we’ve built on. I always dreamed of working in an environment that cares for the people but had no idea there was a company that had developed an empathy for the personnel through all layers of the organisation, which was shocking for me.
You manage a business with a high percentage of women in senior leadership positions. How have you achieved that?
Women are treated as equals and have the same opportunities and responsibilities as men. Their experience and ability are valued the same as this is one of the pillars upon which IT Labs was built – meritocracy. We achieved it by giving women the platform to grow and learn, and we value skills, capacity and potential, not the person’s background.
Why is gender diversity so important to you and critical to the sector?
Gender diversity allows people to be better – it allows for more exchange in terms of ideas, which translates to better communication and overall better functioning on both team and company levels. The more diverse a place, the happier employees will be, and they’ll feel that they belong and are safe.
As for the sector, gender diversity will allow for a better product, software, and service development; and a better user experience, as the ideas, effort and creativity will come from various places, enriching it. The bottom line is that we can learn from everyone at any time. If an organisation grasps that concept, diversity will be a normal, not extraordinary, feature in a company.
How have you engaged the business in your vision to improve diversity at all levels?
We have changed the way we do things, career paths, and the hierarchy. We have a horizontal structure – a step towards empowering people, giving them more freedom, and strengthening one of our pillars – idea meritocracy. It is not about setting up roles but emphasising each person’s strengths. We are not forcing diversity, but we live according to its benefits; we value people, and they recognise it.
What initiative have you been most proud of, and how have you measured success?
It’s hard to pick one initiative, as the company has been growing, and the self-starting approach that our employees have shown has been amazing. Many of the initiatives we’ve had in the past and have now have been and are all successful. We measure success by objectives and key results and by how many of the things we do align with our values and vision – how and if each of our people is growing, not just the company.
I have to mention that I’m proud of the employees of IT Labs as they are making an impact with their lives daily in my life and life of my colleagues.
How are you addressing other forms of diversity in the business?
We’re open to all diversity, as we accept all differentiations in all aspects of the person. Not just because we must, but because we’re committed to creating a safe and educational environment for employees. We believe that any diversity can contribute to more ideas and people getting together and creating something that can help improve people’s lives.
Inclusion is important in keeping talent within an organisation. What is IT Labs doing to ensure all employees feel like they belong?
Aside from always approaching things based on merit, we also provide our talent with the freedom to switch and specialise in other techs. Also, transparency is always appreciated, and achievements and efforts are all rewarded and don’t go unnoticed.
Finally, what would you say to businesses struggling with the concept of equality, diversity and inclusion?
Always keep an open mind – when the going gets tough, it can be easy to revert to older ways, but keep at it. And remember, if the leaders and enablers in a business are open-minded, so will all others. The responsibility to develop a culture of equality, diversity, and understanding is all up to the leaders. If you’re on the path, look for the bottlenecks in your leadership, as more often than not, these prevent these concepts from setting in.
The most important process is for the leaders to visualise the benefits they will get if full inclusion and openness towards equality and diversity is made in the company. If they have it well defined for themselves, they will be able to live by those principles and pass on the others.